I have had a grand time the last couple of years with the Rail Trail Challenge, encouraged by the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition of which I’m a board member. Explore all of New Hampshire’s rail trails, get a patch. I am ridiculously motivated at the prospect of hanging that patch on my wall alongside my hard-earned patch from the Forest Society’s Reservation Challenge.
The end is in sight, as I glare balefully at my trail list with a great big blank next to “Ashuelot Rail Trail.” That trail has been sitting on the list, mocking me. I don’t get out to Cheshire County very often. Last time I did, I got a brief taste of the Ashuelot trail’s northern end, with its convenient parking area off Krif Road near Keene State College’s athletic fields. My visit was much too short to be classified as “exploration.” No fair checking off a 20-mile trail after a four-mile sampling.
This is the year. I’ll start very shortly by spending a day in Winchester, savoring the southern end of the trail. The drive out that way will be something to savor as well. Grand Monadnock and the humbler hills nearby are always sights to soothe the soul.
Don’t judge me too harshly for following a checklist. The one for the Rail Trail Challenge is pure fun. It has introduced me to trails I would never have known about otherwise. Not a mile has been wasted, and that includes the miles I have traveled getting to the trailheads – and isn’t that always the case for good hikes anywhere?
Meanwhile, closer to home…
Regarding rail trails closer to home, I’ve been on a few old favorites this spring. The Nashua River Rail Trail, for one: I’m delighted to see that the NRRT is getting some long-overdue maintenance on its Massachusetts side. The volunteers who maintain NRRT do a great job, but sometimes the paved trail needs intensive work that only the state Department of Conservation and Recreation can provide. Nice to see this well-loved path getting what it needs.
The Rockingham Recreational Trail had some serious ruts in it during mud season. I can understand the cyclists’ impatience, although I know the trail takes a big hit from its users’ early-spring exuberance. As the trail has dried out, the surface has been more forgiving. I’ve enjoyed the Auburn section of trail this April. A bonus the last time I was there was the sight of a loon on Lake Massabesic. I’ve seen plenty of gulls near the parking area by the lake, but the loon was a rare treat.
The Goffstown Rail Trail was in good shape when I walked a few miles on it recently. Winter deadfall has been moved aside, and last fall’s broken glass left behind by careless users has been cleaned up. The Friends group for the trail stays on top of things. Near the west end of Namaske Lake – actually part of the Piscataquog River, behind the dam near the Manchester city line – there’s a new bench on the trail, facing the lake. It’s a pleasant place to stop for a few minutes.
I haven’t sworn off hilly hikes. Sometimes I need to get out on a ledge to find a good vista. The rail trails have kept me busy, though, and I don’t regret that one bit.